My hostel, a stone’s throw from a more luxurious hotel with a swimming pool and plush amenities, had an ambience of a prison cell. Except I could lock and unlock the Iron Gate across the door, slide it back and forth on its runners and go places.
Places like the café downstairs.
Breakfast was a breeze. My ‘O’ level French, good enough to attract the serveur, and ask for the à la carte menu. As it happened, omelette and a plate of two warm croissants, strawberry jam and butter was the sole offering – once the meat dishes were eliminated.
Beer? Yes? No. Working day, sorry. Strong black coffee instead.
Glancing around, I was the sole patron that day. Not for long though, as word must have got around that a WHITE bwana was not only eating, but ALONE.
In slipped two coffee-coloured girls. One, I hardly noticed, the other looked like she’d just been plucked from a svelte night-club. Slim, sexy, wearing a slinky blue dress, high cheekbones, piercing black eyes and other distracting features. All in all, a pleasing package.
I gallantly exchanged a few parlez-vous phrases before excusing myself… terrain trip beckoned.
Late afternoon saw me joining fellow aid workers at a multi-ethnic restaurant sited on a boulevard facing Lake Tanganyika. Sitting outside in the cool night breeze, we enjoyed freshly-baked Tilapia (Nile perch) with steamed rice, and garden veggies. All of us bonding with Amstel Bock (7% dark lager). Guaranteed to outreach and outperform Heineken.
The view - spectacular. Sunset over the lake warranted a Louvre portrait. Glorious hues of reflected red and purple haze up to the horizon. Hippos bathing. A family of six, youngsters wallowing and cavorting in the still waters.
‘We had to turn back,’ said Little John, a hairy ape of a fella, and a peace-keeper – unless provoked. Which was rare. ‘Rebels were encroaching on army territory. Fire fights, hand grenades, the bloody lot. Bullets thudding past us into maize fields. No go area, man.’ He paused, lifted up an empty bottle and thrust it at a passing server. ‘Yes, another round, matey – on my tab.’
They took me back late. Dumped me bleary-eyed at reception. Focus, sunshine. My key poked out the cubby hole along with a slip of paper. I took both and scanned the message.
Ma Cherie amour. Appelle moi. Mimi. XX
Underneath, a telephone number…